In 1948, Al and Ann Bigej proudly opened Al’s Fruit Stand. Housed in an unused chicken coop along Hwy 99E in Woodburn, Al began selling fruit and produce to local residents and tourists who traveled along the highway.
Al and Ann Bigej
Sixty five years later, Al’s dream has evolved into a third generation family-owned business. Now known as Al’s Garden Center, the company currently employees more than 200 Oregonians with three growing facilities, a 6-acre garden center in Woodburn, a store in Gresham, and a 10.5-acre garden center in Sherwood.
A PASSION FOR PLANTS
Much of the business’s success is owed to Al’s middle son, Jack, who is recognized as the true entrepreneur with his passion for business and plants. Jack’s innovative ideas have kept the business successful, and growing over the past six-and-a-half decades.
“My dad’s vision started to go bad around the time I was in high school, so I helped him in the store. He offered me $1.25 an hour, which was the going wage at that time, plus half of anything we made more than the year before. It was a heck of a deal for both of us,” Jack reminisces.
Al's original fruit stand
“And at the end of the season, he had to give me a $3700 bonus because I had brought in plants. He paid me with no problem, but he had the bookkeeper look over books three times to make sure they were right! He couldn’t believe we had done so much better. So, that’s how Al’s got into the plant business.” From then on, the nursery was open year-round and the name was soon changed to Al’s Fruit and Shrub Stand.
Plants provided a new source of revenue for the company, which proved beneficial because the construction of Interstate 5 soon redirected the tourist traffic. With the significant loss of tourist business, Jack expanded his customer base to the local community by selling nursery stock. Al left this new side of the business to Jack, and remained focused on the fruit sales. The nursery business was successful and by 1961, Jack was brought into his father’s business as a partner.
Jack's nursery business continued to flourish. In 1970, the old chicken coop was replaced by a new building that would incorporate both the fruit and the expanding nursery stock business. Today, Al’s Woodburn store is a 6-acre garden center in the heart of the town’s business district. In 2012, readers of the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper voted the store “Best Nursery in the Mid-Valley.”
During the ‘80s, Al’s health deteriorated and Jack took over running the entire business. Before long, he knew it was time to expand and diversify again, so seasonal bedding plants began to appear in the product mix. Seeing what was available to retail, Jack was certain that he could grow a higher quality plant product, and produce it at a lower cost to the customer. Plus, he wanted to differentiate Al’s Fruit and Shrub by having a wider variety of plants than anyone else.
AL’S GROWS 80% OF THE PLANTS WE SELL IN OUR STORES
"The Farm" in Hubbard, OR
By 1982, Jack began putting up greenhouses behind the Woodburn store. In 1993, the greenhouse operations expanded to “the Farm” in Hubbard. And in 1999, the Gresham location was purchased, which included several greenhouses. Later, in 2003, a production nursery was added outside Mt. Angel to grow trees and larger shrubs. In addition to its three growing locations, which are nationally-recognized for quality production and plant diversity, Al’s also boasts three retail stores.
In 1995, Jack phased produce out of the business and expanded growing operations at the farm. In 2004, the Gresham store opened with 13,000 square feet of retail space in front of four acres of growing greenhouses. In 2005 Al's Garden Center opened their Sherwood store, a 10.5 acre state-of-the-art garden center filled with annuals, perennials, nursery stock, fountains, pottery, garden supplies and a high-end gift department.
In peak seasons, plants are delivered daily from the growing facilities to the stores. By growing locally, Al’s is able to provide a fresher, higher-quality and wider selection of plants to its customers.
AL’S IS DEDICATED TO HELPING MAKE YOU A SUCCESSFUL GARDENER
Throughout the years, Jack has become well-known in the horticulture community. He has lectured extensively across the United States and is known as an innovator who wants to get people excited about gardening. His knowledge is passed along first-hand to the committed retail staff at the stores who also share his passion for plants.
Gardening basics and new techniques are taught through weekly seminars and workshops in the stores. And youngsters are encouraged to get their hands dirty in monthly Kids' Club classes.
AL’S IS A THIRD GENERATION, LOCAL, FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESS
The Bigej Family
Though Al Bigej passed away in 1989, his legacy lives on in Jack and the Bigej family. His wife Deanna, is his sounding board and, is herself, an avid gardener and three of their four children work in the family business. Darcy (Bigej) Ruef serves as Chief Financial Officer. Dorothy (Bigej) Russo manages the growing facilities, and Mark oversees the retail side as the Chief Operations Officer.
Jack is still amazed by the growth of Al’s Garden Center, “Most of our growth has come from our desire to find ways to offer customers better quality, as well as to keep good people employed throughout the year.”
“We’ll keep growing as long as you’ll keep planting and enjoying.”